On this day in 1884, abolitionist, suffragist, and dear friend of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), married his second wife, Helen Pitts, less than two years after the death of his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass.
At a time when interracial marriage was outlawed throughout most of the United States, the union was incredibly controversial, because Frederick was a former slave of mixed heritage and Helen was white. Even Helen’s own parents, who were themselves abolitionists, were opposed. But the two were resolute in their love, with Helen saying, “Love came to me, and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color,” and Frederick quipping, “This proves I am impartial. My first wife was the color of my mother and the second, the color of my father.”
It was none other than Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself who vocally defended the marriage: “In defense of the right to…marry whom we please — we might quote some of the basic principles of our government [and] suggest that in some things individual rights to tastes should control…. If a good man from Maryland sees fit to marry a disenfranchised woman from New York, there should be no legal impediments to the union.”
The wedding was officiated by Rev. Francis James Grimké, a Presbyterian minister in Washington D.C., one of the few jurisdictions where interracial marriage was legal at the time. The day was particularly meaningful: Grimké was also born into slavery to a white father and a mixed-race mother. Grimké’s niece, journalist, poet, and playwright Angelina Weld Grimké, would go on to be one of the most prominent suffragists of color of the 20th century and an outspoken opponent of abortion.
Today, Anna, Helen, and Frederick’s remains are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. His friend Susan B. Anthony was laid to rest at the same cemetery.
And so, on this 137th wedding anniversary, we pay tribute to a love that knew no color, and we cherish the memory of Frederick Douglass and his two loves, Helen Pitts and Anna Murray.
Because women deserve better,
Damian J. Geminder
Director of Public Education & Editor
Feminists for Life of America